Farmers work together to reconnect wildlife

Yellowhammer - Chris Gomersall/2020VISION

Sam Hanks, Suffolk Wildlife Trust's Farmland Wildlife Advisor, is supporting farmers around Bramfield, Walpole, Thorington and Wenhaston to work together for wildlife.

Early successes of six farms that collaborated around Bramfield has inspired the extending of their efforts to form a full-scale farmer cluster, aiming to cover some 2000 hectares of farmed land. 

Following the Bramfield watercourse to the River Blyth, this group has ambitious aims of connecting wildlife across the landscape, building biodiversity into their farming operations, connecting with the local communities and ensuring that they are as sustainable as they can be.  

Early work of the initial group of six farms has led to some great wildlife success stories, including the re-discovery of a species thought to be extinct. With the support of Suffolk Wildlife Trust, the group has undertaken a wide range of wildlife monitoring and management actions that have had great results for biodiversity across their farms.

Buoyed by their successes, the group agreed in 2020 to extend the area of their focus towards Blythburgh, with a view to cover as much of the farmland along the Bramfield/Wenhaston watercourse, a tributary of the river Blyth that rises around Bramfield, as they could. The area encompasses Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s Church Farm nature reserve and is a much-varied landscape with interesting transition from clay plateau to a sand and gravel dominated coastal landscape.

We have been bouncing ideas off each other as to our individual successes and less successful ideas. We have collaborated on the use of a digger for cleaning-out ponds (saving both time and money). The farms have paid for important survey work carried out by other enthusiastic, qualified, people.
Mike Porter
Farmer

Early success

Ponds: the cluster group sits on heavy clay land and has a high density of farmland ponds; restoration of neglected ponds has been a focus of the group for the last two years. The work has been accompanied by surveys which have found a stonewort species, slimy-fruited stonewort Nitella capillaris, that was previously thought to be extinct in the UK. Along with other rarities such as tassel stonewort Tolypella intricata, leading to the area being declared nationally important for stoneworts.

Farmland pond - Mike Porter

Farmland pond - Mike Porter

What are stoneworts? Complex algae that take a form similar to simple aquatic plants, they specialise in colonising bare substrate in ponds. Their oospores (seeds) can survive for hundreds of years in the buried sediment.

 Clustered stonewort at Bellman's Hill Pond, Walpole - Mike Porter

Clustered stonewort at Bellman's Hill Pond, Walpole - Mike Porter

Arable plants: surveys of three of the farms have shown the area to be a stronghold for some of our rarest plants including field woundwort, dwarf spurge, sharp-leaved fluellen, round-leaved fluellen, stinking chamomile.

Arable flora struggles in modern farming systems but is doing well here in the lower intervention areas, especially around conservation cover crops. The group are targeting seed collection of the most interesting plants to ensure that they continue to provide a stronghold for these important species.

Field woundwort - Philip Precey

Field woundwort - Philip Precey

Farmland birds: the work the farms have undertaken includes a series of breeding and wintering bird surveys, these have shown that the area of these farms supports a number of red and amber listed bird species of conservation concern including; skylark and grey partridge in the arable fields and margins, yellowhammer and nightingale in hedgerows and scrubby woodland. The farms are working together to create scrub nesting habitat and provide winter food for these species.

Skylark by Amy Lewis

Skylark by Amy Lewis

Juliet’s discovery of these extraordinarily rare stoneworts, endangered water beetles and plants was quite a shock. Then came the huge responsibility for looking after them. The cluster will provide far more habitat than I alone can provide. Suffolk Wildlife Trust will provide the expertise.
Richard Symes
Farmer

Future plans

Connecting the landscape: With a larger focus area, the benefits of collaborating as a cluster group can be better realised. The farmer members of the group will work together to connect habitats and manage these in a positive way.

Building sustainability: Farm sustainability will form a major part of the group's focus in the coming years, they will share knowledge and discuss techniques for farming sustainably, both from economic and environmental viewpoints.

Extending good habitat management: Having learned so much on their own farms about the important species that they all have, the larger group will be well placed to spread knowledge on good habitat management practices and encourage all the group members to practice these techniques.

Engaging with the local community: It is an ambition of all the farms in the group to increase their engagement with their local communities, both to increase understanding of the farming year and to enable the local people to appreciate the special wildlife of this area. There will be farm walks and an opportunity for residents to get involved in wildlife recording on these farms.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust's role

Suffolk Wildlife Trust will continue to support the group to expand their great work, as well as provide technical advice and services to the individual farms in recording and understanding their wildlife and how this interacts with the farming operation.

The Suffolk Wildlife Trust survey work showed us what had been achieved by years of work and collaboration between farms regarding habitat management. Highlighting some amazing finds, in doing so has given us that incentive to keep going.
Shauna Waterer
Farmer

Farmland Wildlife Advice

Suffolk Wildlife Trust has been working with farmers and landowners for many years, offering advice and expertise to help increase biodiversity and improve habitats for Suffolk’s wildlife. Visit our farmland wildlife advice webpage to find out more:

Farmland wildlife advice

If you’d like to find out how we can help your farm, please contact Sam Hanks, Farmland Wildlife Adviser:

Email Sam